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Half-Life 2 photo
Half-Life 2

Smell the ashes while listening to City 17


It's like hearing Dr. Breen's own playlist
Oct 25
// Alasdair Duncan
I've been a fan of the various You Are Listening To... streams for a few years now. Initially, you could listen to the police banter of various North American cities while a stream of ambient and instrumental music played at ...

Review: Dreamfall Chapters Book One

Oct 24 // Alasdair Duncan
Dreamfall Chapters: Book One (PC [reviewed], Mac, Linux)Developer: Red Thread GamesPublisher: Red Thread GamesMRSP: $29.99 / £23.99 (whole season) Release: October 21, 2014 When I say that Dreamfall Chapters starts off where The Longest Journey concluded, I'm not being totally accurate. It turns out Zoë is still in her coma with little chance of recovery, stranded in a world between reality and dream called Storytime. Meanwhile, Kian remains in the magical realm of Arcadia, imprisoned in a foreboding keep and awaiting his execution. The third major character of the series April Ryan is, well... you'll see.  As I mentioned, if you're new to this franchise, you're going to be confused at the start of the game, and even by the end you'll still only have a vague concept of where the story is heading, or an idea of Zoë's eventual home in Europolis (where the bulk of Book One takes place). You know that Zoë has recovered from her coma and is now living a new life, reunited with her boyfriend Reza. There's an election happening and Zoë is involved in campaigning for one of the candidates. Outside of that, there's little to define Europlois. [embed]283006:56090:0[/embed] Zoë's adventure begins in Storytime, a sort of limbo-esque realm that she has found herself in while comatose. In the real world, there is now a device being sold called a Dream Machine that lets people share dreams with each other but causes those people to be stuck in Storytime and experience continual nightmares. Zoë is able to help a few of them but realizes that while she can save these people, those who need her help continue to grow all the time. She must somehow return to the real world and stop the problem there.  The first few interactions with troubled dreamers are interesting because they aren't framed in the usual adventure game way of combining items with environmental objects. Instead, Zoë has some special powers in Storytime that allow her to manipulate the environment and the dreamers to try and help them escape their nightmares. Whether it's manipulating light, time, or reading a dreamer's mind, these initial puzzles are different but before long Zoë must return to the real world. First of all, you'll take control of Kian who has been told that his execution has been stepped up and will now happen at dawn. Thankfully, a riot has begun with the intention of freeing him. This part is more your traditional adventure game, combining items you find in the environment to overcome obstacles like locked doors. Kian's section in this episode is quite short but again, if you haven't played a Dreamfall game, there's not a lot of backstory offered. Zoë's time in Europolis is where you'll spend the bulk of the game, a gleaming sci-fi metropolis that is the essence of your typical cyberpunk city; it's dark and illuminated by almost nothing apart from neon (oh my God, the lens flair is amazing) and there's people walking about with LED hairstyles. Despite this being the main location of the game, it's hamstrung by a lack of engaging puzzles. There are few problems to solve and your progress is limited to just going to a certain location and/or talking to a specific person. That's not a bad thing per se, as these interactions help fill out story details and contribute to building your picture of the world. The dialogue is strong throughout along with the voice work (although some of the character animations, specifically their lips, could do with improvements). There's some interesting dialogue and story options available. When asked a question, Zoë or Kian will have a few dialogue options to choose from; hovering your mouse over each one will let your character read out what they think their response will be and their motivation for giving that answer. It's a deeper dialogue system that most games and it lessens a lot of the guesswork that tends to lurk in most game conversations. You really feel like you know why your character is giving their reasons for choosing a response rather than assuming. There are of course different moral choices that to be made throughout the game, ranging from saving a person's life to buying sausages. You're told that these decisions will affect the story and your relationships with certain characters, but it's hard to tell how well that's going to be implemented this early into the series. You'll get a chance to review these choices at the end of the chapter, just like one of Telltale's recent games. Just as an interesting aside, Red Thread Games has the option of not sharing your choices and playing the game in an "offline" mode. Dreamfall Chapters: Book One is a shaky first step for the series; it's in a difficult position of continuing the story of two previous games while introducing a standalone series. It doesn't do a good job of the latter. If you're a newcomer to the series, you'll be pulling together bits and pieces of the story as you find them. Even something as simple as an opening movie or cutscene would provide a good foundation for Dreamfall Chapters to carry on its story. There are only a few real puzzles to gate your progress (almost all in Kian's section of the game) and although that's consistent with the series as a whole, the interactions between Zoë and other characters leave much to be desired. The cast is interesting and memorable and the various settings are well realized, but it feels that more can be done with all of these elements that will likely be presented in future releases, which I'm keen to play.
Dreamfall Chapters photo
A patchy return for Zo Castillo
It wasn't surprising to hear that the long-awaited Dreamfall Chapters would be split into separate episodes -- it's in the name, really. Episodic adventure games are well established now, so in my mind, separating a new Dream...

Kickstarter photo
Kickstarter

Human Resources Kickstarter fires itself


It looks like No Pineapple Left Behind might follow suit
Oct 21
// Alasdair Duncan
If you were hoping to play Uber Entertainment's next game Human Resources, you'll be disappointed to know that the Kickstarter has been cancelled. Despite having over 9,000 backers, the project had raised $384,000 which was j...

Book of Unwritten Tales 2 photo
Book of Unwritten Tales 2

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 still needs some work


The final release is set for Janurary 2015
Oct 20
// Alasdair Duncan
We've talked before which games use Steam Early Access best. Titles like Prison Architect and Sunless Sea are two that come to mind for me; these are games that have a perfectly playable and enjoyable core game that has been ...
Retro-Pixel Castles photo
Retro-Pixel Castles

Retro-Pixel Castles is all the work of just one person


This indie strategy game has hit its Kickstarter goal
Oct 17
// Alasdair Duncan
Trendy survival games like Rust and Don't Starve have had one interesting feature that rarely get's talked about: you can't actually win at these games. That's the main concept behind the small-scale Retro-Pixel Castles, an ...

Review: The Art of Alien: Isolation

Oct 17 // Alasdair Duncan
The Art of Alien: Isolation (Book)Author: Andy McVitiePublisher: Titan BooksPrice: $34.95/£29.99Released: October 7, 2014 Despite being set 15 years after the first film, Alien: Isolation copies the design and art style of the movie almost exactly. This is still grungy, industrial, workman-like sci-fi, not flashy, shiny space opera. Each chapter of the book shows that plenty of thought went into making every visual element stand out and fit in with the style of the original Alien. The book is a good opportunity to get a better look at protagonist Amanda Ripley, who only fully appears in the game's cutscenes. There's a whole heap of costume designs and concept art that looks like it came right out of the sketchbook of either Ron Cobb or John Mollo. You're given a better sense of what went into attempting to make the art of Isolation have that "lived-in" feel. There are also quite a few drawings of various space craft, which is just like catnip to me. The center piece of the game is the one thing you don't want to see, the Xenomorph itself. Again, the concept art does a fine job of showing the changes in design the team went through. The initial sketches depict a more muscular alien, whereas the final model ended up being a thinner, more lithe creature. Of course, if you've seen any of the films, you'll already be very familiar with the design of H. R. Giger's iconic monster. On that note, the only really disappointing element is how familiar much of the artwork feels. For fans of the Alien franchise or gritty sci-fi in general, there isn't anything unexpected here. The team at Creative Assembly has done an excellent job recreating the look of the original film but it's a shame there aren't more surprises to be found. There is artwork of sequences cut from the game, like a brief zero-G section and storyboards for unused dialog sequences. Still, Alien: Isolation is undoubtedly a faithful recreation of a beloved film and this art book shows how dedicated Creative Assembly was in making the game.
Art of Alien: Isolation photo
This art book is much less scary than the game
Alien: Isolation has received a lot of praise over its faithful recreation of the original film's lo-fi take on science fiction. "Truckers in space" was the aesthetic director Ridley Scott set out to capture and the decks and...

Leave 'em laughing photo
Leave 'em laughing

Leave 'em Laughing attempts to make a game out of comedy


Are you going to die on-stage?
Oct 16
// Alasdair Duncan
Comedy ain't easy, especially in this medium, so a title that tries to game-ify creating a stand-up comedy routine sound a tad ambitious. Leave 'em Laughing from Australian developer Oscar Brittain is a mashup of adventure g...

Review: Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments

Oct 13 // Alasdair Duncan
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments (PC [reviewed], Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4)Developer: FrogwaresPublisher: Focus Home InteractiveReleased: September 29, 2014MSRP: $39.99 / £29.99 I'll applaud developer Frogwares for taking a fresh approach to its series of Sherlock Holmes titles. Previous games revolved around individual cases with an over-riding story featuring the likes of criminal masterminds Jack the Ripper and Professor Moriarty. Holmes and Watson would solve a series of mysteries, each feeding into the overall narrative but Frogwares has done away with that approach for Crimes and Punishments. As the name might suggest, this time there are totally separate cases with their own victims and criminals. While there's some dealings with Sherlock's spy-master brother, Mycroft, this has almost no bearing until the very end of the game and doesn't really affect the individual cases. [embed]282435:55943:0[/embed] Crimes and Punishments is an adventure game so there's plenty of looking for clues, consulting Holmes' various reference materials, and conducting scientific tests. There aren't inventory-based puzzles that you'd traditionally think of with an adventure game; any items Holmes acquires will be available when needed for their specific use. It's all practical solutions too -- like for instance, when Holmes is looking for a possible bullet hole high up on a darkened wall, you simply combine a pole with a lamp to proceed. There's nothing too taxing in that sense, as most of the difficulty comes from various mini-games and challenges which range from mental to dexterity-based. With the former, you'll have Holmes picking locks or doing experiments on hair and metal samples. The other type of challenges are a bit rarer, like beating a sailor in an arm-wrestling contest or crossing a rope bridge. These can be skipped at no real penalty to the player (aside from missing out on achievements) so while it's welcome that you can bypass the lock-picking mini-game after the seventh time you've seen it, there does feel like an absence of challenge. This isn't much of a change from the last Sherlock Holmes title but it highlights the focus on the newer elements of the game. The big new feature here is that there isn't just one suspicious party in each case and you have the ability to accuse whichever individual you feel the clues point towards. Your conclusions are formed from interpreting clues that you find pertaining to the crime in question and interpreting them in such a way that a motive and opportunity become clear. First, you'll have to link facts together to form a node in Holmes' brain map (I've made up that name). Most nodes will have two possible interpretations, like either a break-in was staged or there was a real robbery. Mapping out a crime isn't as elegant as the interface may make it look; you can click randomly on nodes simply to get the conclusions you want and it was even possible for me to condemn a completely innocent person all because I missed a single clue.  In each of the game's six cases, it's possible to point the finger of blame on incorrect parties  -- I finished with four cases solved correctly and two incorrectly -- but at least you're able to absolve the guilty if you feel they were justified in their actions. Crimes and Punishments unfortunately makes most of its murder victims fairly unlikable so it often feels like absolving their murderer is the natural choice. Whether they be murderers, bullies, wife-beaters, or worse, it's hard not to find sympathy for their possible killer. This undermines the weight of the choice you have to make by leaning on the side of the accused. Still, the game doesn't punish you for being wrong -- not directly anyway. Holmes will receive correspondence at a later date confirming if his decision was in any way correct. Crimes and Punishments looks great. Most outdoor environments are stunningly realized, especially locations like the archaeological dig site. The character models too are impressive but suffer from not having their lips move in sync with the dialogue. Kerry Shale and Nick Brimble do a fine job in voicing Holmes and Watson respectively as they have done in previous games and the standard of voice acting for the secondary characters is better than expected. In motion, there was a lot of screen tearing which after experimenting with the video settings still failed to go away. Loading times were hefty as well, especially on my PC which is equipped with plenty of RAM and an SSD. This wouldn't be such a problem if the game didn't insist on moving you from location to location, often on a whim. At one point, I was told I needed to retrieve Holmes' faithful bloodhound Toby from Baker Street. So, after selecting Holmes' domicile from the map, there was a loading screen, I arrived at Baker street, clicked on Toby, and returned to the crime scene after another loading screen. It took two minutes to do what frankly should have taken just a few seconds.  In most videogames that portray detective work, you're still guided on a linear path that has you eventually finger the right perp to continue the story. L.A. Noire came close to having actual deduction and investigations but you would still have to repeat cases where you charged an innocent party. Westwood's 1997 Blade Runner title lead the player on fairly fixed path but kept things fresh by randomizing whether certain characters were replicants. 2014's lo-fi adventure game Noir Syndrome has a randomized set of characters, murders and clues each time you play and I've found my success rate is 50/50 whether I find the guilty party. Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments finds itself in a tricky predicament in the relationship between the great detective and the player; none of us really possess the razor-sharp deductive skills that Holmes is blessed with, so as a player controlling Holmes, surely it's logical that the wrong person is blamed for a crime. But are we playing a Sherlock Holmes game to make our own deductions and mistakes or are we playing to see the workings of the great detective's mind? Controlling the great detective is sometimes frustrating; he still makes leaps in understanding that's beyond the average person. At the same time, that's what makes him a compelling character. By allowing the player to make their own conclusions about who they think is behind a gruesome crime, Frogwares has introduced an element of doubt that I haven't seen in a detective game for some time. At the end of a case, the player is given a rating, either highlighting their compassion or their steely sense of justice. They're also given a breakdown as to how other players resolved the case and the option to find out if they identified the right suspect. Your enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments will depend on whether you want to be guided on a series of baffling murders or have the great detective be fallible.
Sherlock Holmes review photo
Frogwares has changed the formula with mixed results
In Fyodor Dostoyevsky's weighty novel Crime and Punishment, the central character robs and murders a loan shark and pawn broker but justifies the act in his own mind because he will use the money for good. Doestoyevsky's anti...

Review: Costume Quest 2

Oct 07 // Alasdair Duncan
Costume Quest 2 (PC [reviewed], Mac, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Wii U)Developer: Double FinePublisher: Majesco, Midnight CityMSRP: $14.99/£10.99Release Date: October 7, 2014 Costume Quest 2 begins right at the end of the DLC pack for the original game, Grubbins on Ice. Siblings Wren and Reynold, along with their friends Everett and Lucy, have found themselves in a limbo world with numerous trans-dimensional portals. Thankfully, they're able to get back home, but only to find themselves as the protectors of Halloween against a new enemy. Who could hate Halloween so much? Why the devilish dentist Orel White, who uses time travel to free the monsters from Repugnia and wipe Halloween and candy from the face of the Earth. There's plenty of fun to be had with the time-travel plot; it's amusing to see Everett and Lucy all grown up and in the second third of the game, their daughter will team up with Wren and Reynold. You'll find lots of kids in the past who you meet in the future and it's entertaining to see how they have turned out, whether they achieved their hopes and dreams or whether everything went wrong. Don't expect too many head-scratching moments due to time travel -- it's a fairly linear game that you could play with kids and they wouldn't find it confusing to follow. This is still a light, fluffy, colorful series. Costume Quest 2 follows the same structure as its predecessor: there's a series of neighborhoods where your team of three party members can go trick or treating and at each house you can either get a neighbor dishing out candy or a monster encounter which leads to a turn-based battle. There are tweaks to the battle system this time around which make it a fresher experience. Now, each enemy has a class -- either monster, magic, or tech -- and the costumes your party wear will be stronger and weaker against those classes. So for instance, the superhero is strong against wizards but weak against tech, meaning you'll inflict more damage against magic users but take greater damage against tech enemies. Like the first game, each costume has its own special ability either offensively or defensively and some even have abilities that you can be used outside of battles. This time however, those battle abilities are tied to a progress bar that will move on with each successful attack or block. The ability to land a blow in real time has returned but now it's standardized across all costumes, along with a real-time blocking system. Eventually, you'll unlock a risky counter-attack prompt and a combo strike too but the combat wears out its welcome towards the end as you're really just repeating the same button prompts over and over again. Another thing that's new is that your party's health bars will carry over from battle to battle but that's undermined by having healing fountains dotted around each area. As long as you go straight to one after each fight, you'll have no problems preparing for each battle. To give Double Fine some credit, there's a whole host of new costumes you'll find throughout the game, all with distinct special abilities. You can customize your own party to either specialize against one specific enemy type or to try and cover against all classes. Like with many games that features randomized battles like this, you're not really able to prepare well for encounters; even though each neighborhood has only a few enemy types, you're not going to know the make-up of an encounter until it starts. So you might have only one costume that's good against magic but end up facing three enemy tech specialists. The best strategy just seems to cover all your bases and hope for the best. While the costumes are new, some of the abilities are just repeated from the previous game. For instance, the Pharaoh costume combines the resurrection ability from the unicorn and the grapple function of the pirate, all from the previous Costume Quest. True, there's not really much you can do in a game like Costume Quest 2 but it's worth trying out all the costumes yourself just to see the animations, even the clown's frankly horrifying healing animation.  Despite its limits, Costume Quest 2 is a fun little treat, one that doesn't last too long but perhaps that's for the best. Double Fine has done a decent job overhauling the combat system but while there's a more robust set of mechanics than the first game, they do wear thin towards the end. Costume Quest 2 still has that Double Fine charm and any game that includes a Blazing Saddles joke in 2014 is okay in my book.
Costume Quest 2 photo
Wren and Reynold return for more Halloween fun
The original Costume Quest was a seminal game for Double Fine; it was the first game to come out of Amnesia Fortnight, a two-week period of experimenting with small-scale games. Costume Quest's success led the way for Stackin...

LA Cops photo
LA Cops

LA Cops brings mustaches and doughnuts to tactical shooters


Think Hotline Miami meets SWAT and you're there
Oct 02
// Alasdair Duncan
Bringing a game that's early in development to a show like EGX is both a good idea and a scary one. You can get plenty of helpful feedback and some comments that aren't so helpful. "Yeah, we had this kid who was like eight ye...

Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Oct 01 // Alasdair Duncan
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (PC)Developer: The AstronautsPublisher: The AstronautsMRSP: $19.99/£14.99Release: September 25, 2014 First up, let's talk about the visuals; The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has some of the most sumptuous scenery I've ever seen in a videogame. The trees, rivers, valleys, and mountain summit look absolutely amazing and this impressive imagery truly helps set the scene. On the other end, unfortunately, the character models aren't up to scratch -- especially some of their facial animations. However, there's only a handful of characters in the game and their appearances are limited. Vanishing is really about mood, atmosphere, and the mystery behind what has torn a seemingly normal family apart. Players take control of the fantastically named Paul Prospero, a detective with ties to the world of the occult. He's arrived in Red Valley to find a young boy, the titular Ethan Carter, whom he has been corresponding with. Ethan has the same rare psychic gift Paul does, an ability to see into some sort of nether realm, but now that gift has gotten Ethan and his family into danger. [embed]281993:55825:0[/embed] An ancient evil force drawn to Ethan's powers has awoken and set his family against their own flesh and blood. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has its influences in The Shining, Sixth Sense, and Alan Wake but manages to not be just a pastiche of all of them. Ethan has a love for writing stories and his fiction is bleeding into the real world in interesting ways.  The crux of gameplay involves solving various murders strewn about the valley. Paul has to use his psychic powers to locate clues, recreate the murder scene, and identify the chain of events that led up to the crime itself. It's rare when a game asks you to do some actual deduction and there's very little hand holding outside of some audio cues and Paul's psychic ability to narrow down the location of clues and vital objects. Still, once you solve the first crime, the method of completing the remaining cases is pretty much the same: find all of the clues, recreate the events of the murder. What's interesting is that you can solve these cases out of sequence and in fact it's easy to solve the murder of a person that you'll see implicated later on in the game. You'll have to figure out each crime -- as well as Ethan's various story scenarios -- to progress to the end. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is quiet and contemplative game. Indeed, there's long stretches where you'll hear nothing but the beautiful, haunting orchestral score and Paul's occasional musings. It's rare to play a game that's this quiet and determined to let you take it at its own pace. Thankfully, there is a run button that comes in real handy later on in the game if you've missed solving something back at the beginning of the valley. Each crime takes place in a contained area, so you don't need to do much backtracking, although the final location takes place in the furthest corner of the playing area and you'll have to return there if you have missed something. Gamepad support works just fine and there's no disadvantage to using a controller over a keyboard and mouse. The only real blemish is a patchy underground area. Despite featuring a chilling murder and an impressive moment torn from one of Ethan's stories, it's also home to a frustrating, insta-fail stealth sequence. Even as a fan of stealth games, a sequence like this feels out of place here. It provides some initial scares but becomes frustrating and something that unfortunately needs repeated over and over again. While some will find the pace far too slow for their liking or the crime-scene puzzles too simplistic, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter holds up well. Having the story told almost out of sequence makes it even more chilling as you see people slowly turn on each other. The melancholy tale is matched with some wonderful visions to make a game that really sticks in the mind.
Vanishing of Ethan Carter photo
A haunting mystery from former Bulletstorm devs
Perhaps the biggest surprise about The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is that the developers behind the game were members of People Can Fly, the studio responsible for Bulletstorm; the idea that some of the people who came up with...

Human Orbit photo
Human Orbit

Human Orbit will let you indulge your rogue AI fantasies


Want to be SHODAN or HAL?
Oct 01
// Alasdair Duncan
Is it me or are all artificial intelligences on spacecraft always evil? GLaDOS, HAL, SHODAN, the ... steering wheel thingy from WALL-E -- all of them were pretty evil, or at least fairly negligent in their jobs and now it's y...
Calvino Noir photo
Calvino Noir

Calvino Noir is a European, smoky, noir-ish stealth game


You can almost hear the sousaphone
Oct 01
// Alasdair Duncan
I think I've probably made it clear that I like a good stealth game and thankfully I had the chance to try out the lovely-looking Calvino Noir at EGX. Set in post-war Austria (I forgot to ask which war... whoops), players con...
Dreamfall Chapters photo
Dreamfall Chapters

The first part of Dreamfall Chapters arrives on October 21


This is the first of five upcoming chapters
Sep 30
// Alasdair Duncan
We've known for a while that the upcoming Dreamfall game from Red Thread would be split into five chapters but now we have word that the first one, entitled Reborn, will arrive on October 21. I'm hoping that the studio will ...
Monsterum photo
Monsterum

I had a good time watching Monsterum scare people


This Oculus Rift title has you being hunted
Sep 30
// Alasdair Duncan
I talked yesterday about how horror games are difficult to demo at a convention; you need to block out so much noise and activity around you to be really immersed in what you're playing. Team Junkfish had no such problems as...
War for the Overworld photo
War for the Overworld

War for the Overworld is the Dungeon Keeper sequel you wanted


Defend your dungeon from plucky adventurers
Sep 30
// Alasdair Duncan
When the recent Dungeon Keeper mobile game was released by EA, it went down like a barrel of stinking fish; it took the core concepts of the franchise and saddled them with a freemium model that made it a chore to play. Than...
Heat Signature photo
Heat Signature

Heat Signature is already looking hot


I couldn't help myself
Sep 29
// Alasdair Duncan
Heat Signature was one of the games I most wanted to get my hands on at EGX. Designer Tom Francis was the guy behind Gunpoint, one of my favorites of 2013, and this next title similarly allows a great deal of player expressio...
Alien: Isolation photo
Alien: Isolation

Playing Alien: Isolation on a convention floor isn't the best idea


Turns out demoing a horror game isn't easy
Sep 29
// Alasdair Duncan
Demoing a game like Alien: Isolation at a convention such as EGX or PAX has always been problematic since horror works best when there's time for quieter moments between the scares. There has to be a period of tension buildin...
Poncho photo
Poncho

Robot platformer Poncho is worth backing


There's a few hours left on the Kickstarter
Sep 29
// Alasdair Duncan
Whenever I've posted an article about a videogame Kickstarter, I've tried to lean on the side of titles that have either a demo as that helps ease some of the potential doubts you can have while backing a project. The team be...

Review: Wasteland 2

Sep 23 // Alasdair Duncan
Wasteland 2 (PC [reviewed], Mac, Linux)Developer: inXile EntertainmentPublisher: inXile EntertainmentMRSP: $39.99/£29.99Released: September 19, 2014 inXile head Brian Fargo has talked at length about how Wasteland 2 was rejected by numerous publishers over the years. It's a traditional, old-school PC RPG in almost every way -- so much so that it feels like a follow-up to the original Fallout games.  The world of Wasteland 2 is still the irradiated wastes of a post-apocalyptic USA. The only form of law enforcement is the Rangers, a group of former military engineers operating out of a base called The Citadel. Starting with a party of four characters, players will roam the the Southwest, initially hunting for clues to solve the murder of a Ranger but gradually uncovering a new enemy. What's interesting about the Rangers is that they're not universally liked; despite your best efforts, you won't always be able to change people's attitudes about your specific team or the Rangers in general. Not everything is black and white and your crew is going to have to make tough choices to achieve its goals. The wasteland is a dangerous, unforgiving place. Although the Fallout series has always had some dark humor to it thanks to the retro-futuristic setting, Wasteland 2 is mainly played straight -- there's not a lot of joy to be found in the irradiated wilderness. [embed]281221:55635:0[/embed] At the start, you'll get to select a team of four characters that you can either pick from a pre-set group or design on your own. All the named characters have a predefined set of skills to suit certain roles, like a medic or sniper, but you're free to generate a custom character and choose their skills as you please. As with a lot of role-playing games, you're shown many stats, abilities, and attributes when you pick a character and it's hard to know what to invest in. Wasteland 2 is the type of game where after a few hours of playing, you'll realize you've got a bad or otherwise ineffective combination of skills and will want to just start over. That's echoed with a lot of the quest design where there's often the urge to reload a much earlier save because you've either missed something or your party didn't pick up a vital piece of equipment from an earlier mission. You're not going to see everything on the first playthrough so don't be disappointed when there's some unresolved loose ends in the story when the credits roll. However, certain early missions just seem to lead into other ones without feeling resolved and you're left with unfinished business in your log. The game could do a better job of keeping you informed of where the most pressing mission is happening or let you know before you leave an area that there's still things to be done. Eventually, you can recruit for your team and add up to three extra party members. They all have their own attributes, gear, and stats but are prone to losing their cool under fire and ignoring your commands. Most of the time this actually works out fine as they charge into battle, shooting enemies as they go but sometimes they'll walk into a trap and just cause trouble. Early on, it's worthwhile to take an extra teammate or two with you just to at least have another person for raiders and mutants to focus on instead of you. One way the game could stand to improve is sharing resources between party members; dragging and dropping items to a member's icon more often than not led me to just dump items on the ground instead. Combat is based on action points that the player can spend to do things like move, shoot, and reload. Positioning and use of cover is key but it can be frustrating when you've got party members who are armed with melee and short-ranged weapons fighting in a big open area. An action queue is displayed at the top of the screen, showing the order of characters and who will act first, which is based on their initiative skill. Action point usage is displayed pretty clearly -- like when you hover over an enemy to see how much AP it will take to shoot them, or to throw a grenade, for instance. Keeping characters out of harm's way is a good idea as you can roll some unused action points over into that character's next turn. While it's possible to just push your way through early battles, you'll need to make good use of your party's skills to beat large groups of enemies.  It's easy to see where Wasteland 2's fairly modest, Kickstarter-generated budget has gone. Close up, the character models are basic, even compared with previous-gen console games. They're almost PlayStation 2-era graphics -- but they're not the reason you're playing the game. A few darker areas could have used some extra user-interface prompts to help players pick out their party and traps, and there's a strange lack of consistency with character's painted portraits and their actual 3D model in the game. One of my custom characters had a picture portraying him as a clean-shaven black man even though the actual 3D model showed him being white and having a grey beard. It's not a major problem at all, but it was jarring every time it popped up. Something else that's noticeable is the voice acting, or lack thereof. While your main contact General Vargas is fully voiced and you'll hear plenty of radio chatter with other characters, more often than not it's only the first and last line of a conversation that has spoken dialogue -- the rest is just text. Again, not a problem in the larger scale of things, but it's noticeable. If these sound like nitpicks, then it's because they are really the only problems that are due to how the game was made. Other issues come from the fact that this is a real old-school RPG, the kind that most developers haven't made made in a while (Divinity: Original Sin is a recent exception). It's the type of game that sticks with the "dice rolls in the background" mechanic and there will be times when you have a 99% chance to succeed and you'll still fail. There are separate skills for lock picking, safe cracking, and bypassing alarms. That's been part and parcel of the genre for years so if that kind of thing doesn't put you off, you're going to enjoy your time here. Wasteland 2 is an expansive game that demands to be replayed again and again to get the best out of it. While a lot of the detailed mechanics feel somewhat archaic, they're not going to hold back dedicated players who want to micromanage and really role play their group of characters. It has all of the familiar elements and even if some aspects of its presentation are not quite up to modern standards, its design and gameplay are timeless and welcome.
Wasteland 2 review photo
This Kickstarted RPG delivers exactly what was expected
[Disclosure: I backed the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter and as such received an Early Access copy of the game.] Wasteland 2 is one of the projects that saw success in the wake of Double Fine's Broken Age. Just a month after Tim Sch...

Torment photo
Torment

Here's our first glimpse at the gameplay of Torment: Tides of Numenera


Looks like a classic PC RPG to me
Sep 18
// Alasdair Duncan
I've been playing inXile Entertainment's Wasteland 2 before its full release on Friday but I have to say, I'm even more excited for the studio's other title, Torment: Tides of Numenera. We've now got our first good glimpse a...
Elite: Dangerous photo
Elite: Dangerous

Here's the digital goodies you'll get if you pre-order Elite: Dangerous


An extra ship? Sure, that sounds good
Sep 12
// Alasdair Duncan
While there's no firm release date, you can pre-purchase a copy of Elite: Dangerous from Frontier Developments. To sweeten the deal, if you order now you'll get some digital goodies like an extra Eagle Fighter ship which sou...
PC games photo
PC games

Half of PC gamers will wait for a sale before buying games


A recent survey casts some interesting light on digital sales
Sep 10
// Alasdair Duncan
If there's one phrase you get used to hearing when talking about PC games, it's "I'll wait for a bundle or sale." It's common knowledge if you wait a while, you can get a better price through places like Steam, Green Man Gami...
Humble Bundle photo
Humble Bundle

Humble Store celebrates the end of summer with a sale


Summer: must've blinked and missed it
Sep 08
// Alasdair Duncan
Summer? I think I must've slept through it... oh wait, I was watching the World Cup. Oh well, there's always next year and until then The Humble Store is settling me in for autumn and winter by having daily deals on some grea...
GOG.com photo
GOG.com

GOG.com celebrates its sixth birthday with a sale


There will be different daily deals this week
Sep 08
// Alasdair Duncan
GOG.com, the online purveyor of classic and indie PC games is celebrating its sixth birthday and in typical fashion, that means a sale. The site always tries to put a neat twist on its promotions, so for the rest of the week ...
Paradigm photo
Paradigm

Paradigm is a point-'n'-click game starring sloths and mutants


Poor mutated Paradigm is looking for love
Sep 04
// Alasdair Duncan
While adventure games are doing as well as ever, there's still not too many that hark back to the classic era games like Day of the Tentacle. They used to be really weird! Jacob Janerka's Paradigm seems to emulate that style...

Review: Hatoful Boyfriend

Sep 04 // Alasdair Duncan
Hatoful Boyfriend (PC)Developer: Mediatonic / Hato MoaPublisher: Devolver DigitalMRSP: $9.99 / £6.99Release: September 4, 2014 It's hard to explain the curious appeal of Hatoful Boyfriend without straight up spoiling some of its story beats. What is clear is that this is not a simple dating sim where all the characters have been replaced by avian love interests; that would have been maybe too easy and wouldn't come close to the weirdness that permeates everyday life at the St. PigeoNation's Institute. This translation of a 2011 Japanese interactive novel tries to lead you in gently. You are the only human student at this particular school. All of the other pupils and staff are birds, like your friend Ryouta Kawara, a rock dove who looks after his sick mother. Over the course of the school year, you'll meet different birds all with distinct personalities like the stuck-up, aristocratic Sakuya and the creepy school doctor, Shuu Iwamine.  Every few days, an elective day is held which gives you the choice of taking a unique class that can level up one of your three stats: wisdom, charisma, and vitality. These tie into later activities like socializing or taking exams but this isn't an RPG -- there's no checks against your stats before you can complete a task. One thing that does feel out of place is the lack of continuity between scenes. You can pick sides in a fight between two classmates on one day and the next day neither of them will mention it or seemingly think any different of you. Whenever you play, the main story is going to pan out roughly the same, excluding any individual choices you make.  Sometimes, Hatoful Boyfriend has smart dialogue -- even simple things like replacing the term "everybody" with "everybirdie" -- but there are also times when the text can be confusing, possibly due to a mistranslation. It's a weird game, so there's a tendency to just go with the flow and not look for the logical narrative. The achievements reveal that there are multiple endings but there's no clear way of striving for a particular conclusion; a lot of the time you just have to make your choices and see what happens. That's an awfully reductive way to talk about the game, as an interactive novel like this. You're not really expected to manage stats, you're just trying to get through the day to see the next crazy thing that happens. From pudding-obsessed athletes to a secret society that has big plans, Hatoful Boyfriend goes above and beyond the average dating simulator. Occasionally, it doesn't feel quite weird enough to carry the whole concept of a human schoolgirl at an all-bird high school, but there's still plenty of laughs to be had for a brief experience that you're going to have to play through multiple times to fully enjoy.
Hatoful Boyfriend photo
Pigeon Dating Simulator 2014
Moving to a new school always sucks. You need worry to about grades, pick classes, join a club, try to find new friends, and fit into an existing social hierarchy.  Imagine that but with the added confusion of all your schoolmates being birds.

The Evil Within photo
The Evil Within

Rejoice, Europeans as you get to experience The Evil Within early


EU release date moved up to October 14
Sep 03
// Alasdair Duncan
As someone living in the UK, it's super frustrating to see notifications pop up on a console or Steam showing my North American friends playing new releases when I usually have to wait a few more days to get my hands on the s...
Left 4 Dead 2 photo
Left 4 Dead 2

Left 4 Dead 2 on PC is finally reclassified as R18+ in Australia


Thought this was all meant to be fixed by now
Sep 02
// Alasdair Duncan
As a former Australian resident, one thing I don't miss there was the lack of an R18+ rating for videogames; despite the fact that the R18+ rating has now been introduced, there have still been cuts to games like South Park: ...
GOG.com photo
GOG.com

You've got 4 days to buy 35 games from GOG.com before they're gone


Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Red Faction will be removed from sale
Aug 30
// Alasdair Duncan
One of the assumptions of buying games digitally is that you assume they'll always be available. That's sadly not the case, but GOG.com is offering discounts on 35 games that it will be removing from its catalog on Septe...

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